(note: this post is continued from day one)

  1. Setting up the tank
  2. Plants
  3. Water
  4. Electricity
  5. Turn it all on

1. Setting up the tank

Once you have bought all your bits and pieces you need to put it all together. (Don’t buy the fish until the tank is properly set up, although this is very tempting!)

Placement is the first priority. The tank is going to weigh a lot because every litre is a kilo and if you follow my advice and have bought a nice size tank you will need a firm and stable base for it.

don’t put your tank too close to natural light or windows as this could result in chills for your tank in winter and too much sunlight in summer which causes overheating or too much algae development

At the same time, be careful of fireplaces too. A good spot is somewhere you can put your feet up, relax and enjoy the world you are about to create while watching all the fascinating things the inhabitants (your tropical fish & plants) do!

2. Water

Strange as it may seem not allw ater is the same and water from different areas has different qualities. Tap water in most places in US, UK, Australia, Canada is of a good quality but a little care is needed to make sure that it is perfect. Chlorine is one of the major chemicals added to water before we drink it. Chlorine may kill the bacteria which invades our stomachs but if a fish is put into highly chlorinated water it will get gill inflammation and die.

Image result for gill inflammation fish

Age the water you put into your tank and it is a good idea to use water conditioners or anti stress formulas in the water when you are importing expensive or less hardy fish into your tank.

When filling up your tank with water, use only the cold-watered ta[ and NEVER the hot water tap as sometimes the pipes and elements in the hot water system can add unwanted chemicals to your tank like copper and zinc.

The water in your tank is the environment inw hcih your fish live so make sure it is good for the fish. We have already talked about good microbes so ask a friend or get some *here*. Using existing sand is the best as it creates a “seeding” effect of the microbes, with a few fish food flakes in your tank and the filter is switched on to ensure they have something to munch on.

You can even scrub some bacteria from an existing fish tank and rub it into your tank to promote fast growth. The water may be cloudy for a few days but eventually will become clear again as the microbe levels stabilise the tank.

After a few days of ‘ageing’ it is wise to check the tank for pH or acidity/alkalinity. The water will not only be affected by the area in which you live but also the gravel, wood and rocks you put into it. It is a good idea to invest in a pH test kit and check your tank regularly to establish the best pH for your fish especially if you want to try your hand at *breeding* them one day. Most tropical fish are happy with a pH level of 6.5 to 7.5 (7 is neutral on a scale from 1 to 14)

3. Plants

I personally hate bare tanks and try to create an environment which is mysterious and visually exciting for both the onlooker and the fish. There must be areas for fast swimmers to swim and the skilkers to lurk and even for the rough and tumblers to have some fun chasing each other around through and over obstacles.

You might hear that real plants are necessary for the fishes health because they use up the carbon dioxide and nitrogen in the water but in reality that is what your filter system will do quite adequately if you have the tank set up correctly. I use a few real plants as well as a selection of plastic or artificial ones because some fish nibble away at the really expensive ones until you just give up.

Image result for artificial aquarium plant
Many “purists” will tell you that you must not use artificial plants! My answer is that if they look real and they do the job of giving fish a comfortable and secure environment, then why not?
There is a wide variety on sale. Some look horrible, some look great, *here* is a guide to provide a good choice.

It all boils down to what you feel is the correct look you are trying to achieve for your tank. I have also noticed that some fish shops sell their plants in little pots that can be fertilised and have a special growing medium different from the rest of the tank. Some plants after all may prefer to have their roots in a lot of much at the bottom of a stream and although you want their beauty, you probably won’t want your tank looking or smelling like a gooey/oozy pond – this is not good for keeping tropical fish.

What are the best plants a beginner should get?

Vallisneria is the plant that grows like a weed, but in reality anything will grow in your tank provided that you have light, gravel and water. There is one more small cheat, if you can get a bottle of *plant fertiliser* for your aquarium. I have used this several times with spectacular results for aquarium plant growth.

When pouring water into your tank, ensure that you pour the water onto a place or cup on the bottom so your sand is not disturbed too greatly.

When your tank is 1/2 to 3/4 full, it is time to plant your plants.

4. Electricity 

Now is the time to place heaters/thermostats and pumps into the water.

Electrical devices such as filters, heaters, lights and power heads are necessary to create the right conditions for our fish and plants. However, everyone knows that water and electricity don’t mix. Here are a few precautions that might be taken for granted you should be aware of:

  • buy a power-board so that you do not have too many devices plugged into a set of *double adaptors*
  • Make sure the *powerboard* has a trip switch
  • Use only devices that are made specifically for aquarium use.
  • Unplug ALL cords before you do anything in or around the tank.
  • Inspect your equipment regularly. Discard and replace any questionable items.
  • Avoid putting your hands in the water when there is electrical equipment in it, which is switched on or even plugged in.
  • Never put a heater element directly against the glass – use a spacer.

5. turn it all on

Refer to the lighting section 

You should get a noise and flow of bubbles when you turn on the filter, it should even out eventually to be a quiet, steady flow. Let the filter run for 5-7 days, so any last chlorine can escape before you add the fish.

Make sure the temperature is around 77 Fahrenheit, or 25 Celsius.

The Nitrogen Cycle

When you have just started an aquarium it takes time to become suitabel for the fish. It takes time for the aquarium to balance. It takes time for the tank to be able to remove all of the waste material (ammonia) and convert it to a less toxic substance (nitrate). New aquariums generally take about 5-7 weeks to be able to sustain a full biological load. That’s why you shouldn’t just go ahead and load up the tank with all of your fish at once.

Where does the nitrogen come from?

Tropical fish go to the toilet just like humans except unlike us, it doesn’t get flushed away and become someone else’s problem. They have to live with it in their enclosed environment, but this creates a lot of ammonia. It’s not just fish excrement, its fish respiration, excess food, plant remnants and even any dead fish that cannot be found. If you had a huge amount of water, the ammonia would dissipate quite well, but where you have a new aquarium ammonia tends to concentrate. This is a vulnerable time as no tropical fish will enjoy such high levels of ammonia. A few species of tropical fish are tough (platys, carbs) and can withstand these levels. But your ammonia level is just a stage, as biological filtration and beneficial bacteria will reduce it over time.

To remove ammonia altogether would be very difficult; instead, we use numerous bacteria that use ammonia as a food source. Once the bacteria have redued ammonai to nitrate, the bacteria aren’t yet finished. Nitrite can be further reduced to nitrate.

This second process takes even more time, and in this stage nitrite is prominent and it is another dangerous time for fish, even hardy ones. But, after a while, nitrite levels reduce and the less toxic compound nitrate is left. Although this toxin is far less dangerous than the earlier two, you must not let it build up in your aquarium. Standard water changes are a chore, but I would recommend you to do them as this reduces nitrate concentrations. The water changes should be about a standard 1 gallon bucket every week.

Image result for aquarium filter wool
Filter wool is one of the most common of all the filter mediums and probably one of the easiest and cheapest to replace

With regular maintenance of your tank, you may be tempted to throw away the entire filter medium when it gets very dirty or discolored. This is not a good idea – much of the filtering is not performed by the physical structure of the wool itself but rather by the friendly micro-organisms which live inside the wool. If you throw out a dirty filter, you’re also throwing out the microorganisms. It will take your fish tank some time to replace them, you may get a dangerous peak in nitrogen levels during this time.

The process of the nitrogen cycle must be maintained so we don’t replace more than 50% of the filter material at one time. Always wash the material we are going to keep with water obtained from the tank so the environment is the same, do not use water from the tap or other sources which may cause stress/infection to the existing healthy bacteria. Don’t use hose water or boiling water, the difference in temperature will shock and/or kill the existing bacteria.

This is one of the cases where you can actually harm your fish by being too thorough!

Set-up summary

  • Choose your location wisely, you want no direct sunlight as this will cause an excess of algae. Make sure the floor is level and will support the weight. Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon (1 kilo per litre), larger tanks get very heavy and break the surface if its not strong/sturdy enough.
  • Put the tank on the stand and ensure that its level. An uneven tank can cause the glass to crack from sheer stress.
  • Wash your gravel to remove all sediment. Add you rockwork and driftwood. Make sure the rocks are not calciferous as these will slowly dissolve and raise your pH.
  • Slowly fill the tank with water from a hose or bucket. Try not to disturb the decorations in your tropical fish tank.
  • Once the water has reached the correct level, you can start up the pump and heater.
  • Add your cover and lighting. You might want to put the lights on a *timer* as this will save a lot of maintenance time.
  • Let the system run for a week to “age” the water.

Onto step three next…


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